Tropical agricultural landscapes in a changing climate: oil palm, rainforest biodiversity and ecosystem services


Susannah Fleiss

Email: sf800@york.ac.uk

Start Year: 2016, Cohort 3

Host University: The University of York

Department: Department of Biology

Supervisors:  Jane Hill, University of York; Colin McClean, University of York, Henry King, Unilever

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Academic profile

Education: 

BA Biological Sciences, University of Oxford, 2013-16

Skills and relevant qualifications:

 

ACCE PhD Research Topic

Tropical agricultural landscapes in a changing climate: oil palm, rainforest biodiversity and ecosystem services

My research addresses the biological impacts of the expansion of oil palm plantations in tropical landscapes, with a view to informing policy to improve the sustainability of oil palm. I am part-funded by Unilever, which is one of the largest single users of palm oil globally, and a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and have close links to the Socially and Environmentally Sustainable Oil Palm Research (SEnSOR) programme. Thus my findings will inform practical guidelines on the management and future expansion of oil palm while minimising negative impacts on tropical biodiversity and ecosystem services. I will conduct fieldwork in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, to assess the biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services of High Conservation Value (HCV) forest fragments within the plantations. RSPO-certified oil palm plantations are required to maintain HCVs as a sustainability criterion. I will focus on measuring above-ground carbon stocks, decomposition, and conducting social surveys of forest use. Additionally, I will model future expansion of oil palm plantations under climate change and changes to oil palm yield, to assess development possibilities which minimise deforestation and maximise yields. My previous research examined the impacts of selective logging and deforestation on an ecosystem function (bioturbation), also in the tropical oil palm landscape of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.